U.S. Moves to Deepen Serbia Ties, Work on Kosovo, Biden Says

  • Two countries agree on new extradition treaty during visit
  • U.S., Russia vying for influence in southeastern Europe

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden tried to further improve ties with Serbia and pushed for progress in the country’s relations with the breakaway province Kosovo, one of the key conditions on the Balkan state’s path to joining the European Union.

On a visit to Belgrade, Biden said the U.S. and Serbia had agreed on a new extradition treaty and discussed how to move forward in EU-facilitated discussions over Kosovo, whose independence isn’t recognized by the government in Belgrade. In a meeting with Serbian Premier Aleksandar Vucic, the two discussed upholding stability in southeastern Europe, a region that witnessed the continent’s worst violence since World War II with the bloody disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbia’s relations with the U.S. have been strained due to a lack of progress in apprehending the killers of three American-Albanians from Kosovo, the Bytyqi brothers, after U.S.-led NATO forces pushed Serbian troops out of the province in a 1999 bombing campaign. The U.S. is also seeking the perpetrators who demolished the U.S. embassy building in central Belgrade in February 2008, when protesters attacked embassies of countries that recognized Kosovo’s independence.

“I am proud that the U.S. and Serbia have started a new chapter,” Biden told reporters in Belgrade Tuesday after meeting Vucic. “Today we discussed how to deepen our partnership.”

Nothing Easy

Biden said he addressed how Serbia and the U.S. can “deepen their partnership,” while Vucic said the two spoke about maintaining stability in the region. The U.S. vice president will travel to Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, on Wednesday.

“There is nothing easy about it,” Biden said. “There’s a lot of history to overcome. This is the issue that I will also be raising in Kosovo tomorrow.”

The Serbian leader, who started a new four-year mandate on Aug. 11 after winning April snap elections, has pledged to prepare the country of 7.2 million people for accession into the EU, a key U.S. ally, by 2019. He is also trying to balance his pro-European agenda by maintaining strong ties with Russia, its Orthodox Slav ally and the biggest international supporter of Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Balancing Act

“My concern is the future of Serbian foreign policy and the intention to continue with the balancing act,” Bosko Jaksic, an independent foreign policy analyst, said by phone, noting that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit Serbia in a matter of weeks. “Both the U.S. and Russia want to block each other’s influence in the region.”

The April election brought more members of the pro-Russian opposition to parliament, including the Serbian Radical Party of nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted on charges of crimes against humanity for his role in the wars of the 1990s. Seselj, who’s called on Serbs in the U.S. to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, will lead a rally in central Belgrade Tuesday to protest against Biden’s visit.

Russia was the eighth biggest investor in Serbia between 2005 and 2013, with nearly 600 million euros ($676 million) worth of foreign direct investment, three times that of the U.S. Still, U.S. investors dominate the debt market with purchases of government bonds, making the country vulnerable to policy changes by the Fed.

Serbia “won’t be able to continue with the balancing act as it makes progress toward the EU,” Jaksic said. “Prime Minister Vucic said in his program there is no intention of any deeper integration with Russia.”

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